Photos courtesy of Keith Treanor, Jared Souney and others
There are many unsung characters who work feverishly behind the scenes of the BMX Industry to bring the sport to new levels. Michael ‘Big Island’ Castillo is one of those characters. Whether it’s shooting photos, designing graphics, judging contests or just having a beer with a friend, Big Island does it all well (especially having a beer). This interview pays homage to a unique & creative individual and most importantly a friend to many. So put your bifocals on, drink up and enjoy the read. – Keith Treanor
I met Mike in Hawaii in 1990 and he’s been a good friend ever since. From working for S&M and Hoffman to judging the world’s biggest contests to becoming an accomplished tattoo artist Mike brings the aloha spirit to everything he does. Now a dad and a business owner, Mike got plenty on his plate but he’s never too busy to hang out with his friends when he’s in town. I love the dude and I’m lookin’ forward to being friends for another 20 years! Mahalo! – Chris Moeller
Brah , no could find the pic cha of bigs but I get 1 good story cuz das wat we hawaiins do , no joke………… so I stay cruzing hawaii wen I was 16, fo see my ohana fo da first time ya? and I stay riding already flatland fo tree years and I know of 1 bike shop in Hawaii das da’ kine BIKEFACTORY. My fada when cruz me to da’kine and hooo was mean! Das wenI tink I hear of 1 bugga dat was 1 freestyle guy MIKE, later to become BIG ISLAND. I neva meet him on da islands, but yet maybe 1991 on da main land @ CHRIS MOELLER & JOHN POVAH’S house. I tink maybe wen he was young he small kine same for being hawaiin, because he neva wear slippa’s,………… eva. He always stay hard core bike guy, he like wear shoes , socks, all black in summer time @ da beach??? afta buss’n for years on his bike and riding fo S&M BIKES, HOFFAMAN BIKES, now he has been working wit dat bugga MAT HOFFMAN wit da high maka maka job X-GAMES judge, BIG time tattoo artist wit plenty tattoos all ova his body, he still goes BIKEFACTORY and is respected by all da riders, especially da mokes on da island because he neva scared fo leave da ohana like most lazy Hawaiians………………………. And I even notice he wear slippas now @ da beach , even when he not @ da beach, tanks BIGS for always being Hawaiian warrior and making people on da island proud, even KING KAMEHAMEHA stay proud!!!!!! SHOOTS BRAH!!!!! – Sean McKinney
Back in the day, BMX was a lot smaller and you could count on seeing the same dedicated crew at every single Bicycle Stunt Contest. And you could also count on seeing Big Island 180 off the deck of the box jump to flat, wearing the same camo shorts, at every comp. I have no idea why this is my earliest memory of Bigs, but it stands out like it was yesterday. Since those days in the early 90s I’ve been on countless trips with him, and they’ve all been a blast. He may be covered with tattoos and possibly cause old ladies to clutch their purses and cross the street, but he’s still the nicest tough-looking guy you’ll ever meet. – Mark Losey
Michael Castillo aka Big Island
Feb. 19, 1972
When did you start riding BMX?
I started riding in 1985, racing BMX, doing tricks at the basketball courts and riding all over Hawaii. My parents let me build a little track in the backyard and we rode the ditch right behind my house. We built sketchy ass ramps that we got the plans out of BMX Plus!
You have done many different things behind the scenes of BMX (photographer, designer, company owner, shop owner, nomad) Would you care to describe some of these occupations?
I was a photographer all throughout high school and took a semester in college. I shot a lot of skateboarding growing up in Hawaii. Mark Losey and Adam Booth helped me out a lot with learning how to shoot stuff and getting my photos in BMX Plus or Ride. I did bike graphics for a couple different companies. One year at Interbike S&M Bikes, Hoffman Bikes, and Rick Thorne’s Free Agent line all had graphics I did for them. My main job was for Mat at Hoffman Bikes. He was cool about me doing side jobs cause he knew they were my friends. I rode for S&M at that time too. I worked for Mat for about nine years out in Oklahoma. Then, moved back to Hawaii in 2002. I owned a bike, skate, coffee shop called the Big House with my friend Kala. We had the Terrible One crew, the Samurai crew, and a few other riders come out for BBQs and demos. I’ve also been judging BMX contest all over the place. I started off with the old B.S. Comps back in 1992, I’d fly over from Hawaii, I was always broke, so Mat would let me help judge or sell shirts to help pay my entry fees. I’m still judging X-Games and some Dew Tours. I’ve been lucky enough, depending on how you look at it, to help judge all 15 and this years X-Games.
You have been a judge for some of the biggest BMX events and traveled the world for many of the events. What have some of the events been like and what is your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Judging is the hardest thing ever. I get to see all sides of riding, and competitions are the most stressful and organized. I ride with my friends and just have a great time, whether I’m doing something new or the same old manual or grind line. That’s why I love riding so much. Then, you have the pros, doing shows or contests. Training is what I’ve heard a few call it and then having to ride when you don’t want to. And on top of all that, you got a group of guys judging your every move. I guess that’s why they are pros. But for the most part everyone I meet on the different levels of riding, and different scenes, have the same love for riding, just different outlets. But, yes I love judging cause it’s the best seats in the house, you get to witness the best riding, and you get to cheer for your friends.
You lived at the POW house? For how long? How did that affect your life?
I lived in the house for about a year and a half. I experienced more then, than any other period in my life time. The things that happened there, things I’ve done and seen, amazing stories, scary stories, just great life experiences. It was growing up and living, riding at that time was a big bonus. The friends I made at the house are very close to me, even if we only see each other once every few years, it’s always great to see everyone and hang out. Chris Moeller wrote a great story about the P.O.W. House for Dirt magazine back in the day. Find it if you can.
What gets you stoked?
Seeing my daughter, Izabella. Riding with good friends, pulling stuff, and not getting too hurt. Seeing, doing, getting great tattoos. Food in Hawaii. I’m easily amused.
What has BMX taught you?
It definitely toughens you up all around, your mind, body and soul. You learn how to take a good slam and get back up, if you can, and go at it again. Traveling the world riding, experiencing so much, let’s you know how little you really know about anything.
You’ve done some serious partying over the years. I’m sure there are many stories, what is one memorable time you care to tell about?
I’m just going to say don’t go to Amsterdam after partying at the X-Games one week, Backyard Jam the next week, drink absolutely nothing but beer and alcohol and eat only McDonalds for a week straight, then get the ferry from England and drive two vans through Europe to Amsterdam for the Worlds, smoke a bunch of weed and do mushrooms, carry your friend with a broken foot on your back around town, sleep in the van if you make it there or just sleep in some bushes… cause it makes you feel like you are really going to die.
These days you own a tattoo shop. How did you get into tattooing and end up owning your own shop?
Once I started getting tattooed, the more got, the more I wanted to know about it. I was lucky enough to fall into a great crowd that helped me out. I apprenticed under Mark Mahoney in Hollywood at the Shamrock Social Club and at South Pacific Tattoo Co. in Waikiki with Wondo. I ended up buying the shop from Wondo last year and we changed the name to Hale Nui tattoos, which means Big House in Hawaiian. The whole aspect of tattooing and its history is just fascinating.
Is there anyone you would like to thank? Shout outs?
Shouts and Mahalos to God and all the Heavens above, my daughter, Izabella and my baby’s mamma for taking care of her, my family for the support, Keith Treanor for always looking out for me, Chris Moeller and the S.M.O.G., Mat Hoffman and the whole HB crew, Rick Thorne, Page Hussey, Da Bikefactory Boys, Mark Mahoney and the Shamrock Social Club, Wondo and da Hale Nui crew, The P.O.W. BMX, McKinney and Revenge Industries, Bad Boy Badders at Vans, John Povah at Etnies, Leigh Ramsdell, Mark Losey, Sheps, Roni, Parrick, Stephen Murray and Stay Strong, anyone who has bought me a beer, and all those who inspire. Always remembered… Mark Udell, Richard “Boyle” Ball, Colin Winklemann, Anthony Maglalang, Smilin’ Paul, Kenny Brimer.